Synopses & Reviews
The first comprehensive biography of the legendary figure who redefined American sports — arguably the greatest all-around athlete the United States has ever seen.
With clarity and a fine eye for detail, Kate Buford traces the defining moments of Jim Thorpe’s incomparable career: leading the Carlisle Indian Industrial School football team to victories against the country’s finest college teams, coached by the renowned “Pop” Warner; winning gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics; defining the burgeoning sport of professional football; and playing long, often successful — and previously unexamined — years in professional baseball.
At the same time, Buford vividly depicts the difficulties Thorpe faced as a Native American, and a Native American celebrity at that, at the beginning of the 20th century: from the infamous loss of his Olympic medals — stripped from him because he had previously played professional baseball — to his struggles with alcoholism and personal misfortune, his advocacy for Native American rights while he chased a Hollywood career, and his distrust of the many hands extended to him.
Here is the story — long overdue and brilliantly told — of a complex, iconoclastic, profoundly talented man whose life encompassed both tragic limitations and truly extraordinary achievements.
"Buford (Burt Lancaster: An American Life) covers Thorpe's life of 'high triumphs and bitter despair' in extensive detail. Thorpe (18881953), a 'mixed-blood' Sac and Fox Indian from Oklahoma who starred for the legendary Carlisle, Pa., Indian school's college football team, won the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, prompting the king of Sweden to declare him 'the most wonderful athlete in the world.' The next year, however, Thorpe was stripped of his gold medals after it was discovered he had violated the amateur athletic code by playing minor league baseball. The loss haunted him throughout his hardscrabble life in which he abused alcohol, married three times, constantly needed money, and was an absentee father. His peripatetic story included myriad roles: avid hunter and fisherman; professional baseball player in the major and minor leagues; pro football player; bit actor with often degrading nonspeaking Indian roles in many westerns as well as in other movies, including King Kong; merchant marine during World War II; security guard at a Ford plant; bar and restaurant owner; supporter of American Indian causes; and regular speaker on the lecture circuit. Buford reports the facts and dispels many fictions about this American icon. (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"Buford’s account...brims with detail, all of it relevant to the telling." Booklist
"An impeccably researched biography of one of the world's greatest all-around athletes, a symbol of racial injustice and untapped potential." Kirkus Reviews
"Kate Buford takes a legend as American as Manifest Destiny and animates it with stunning detail and gritty truth. Native American Son is the honest and sometimes painful story of the creation and exploitation of celebrity, of hero-worship and bigotry, of athletic grandeur and human frailty. This is the real Jim Thorpe story." Rob Fleder, Executive Editor of Sports Illustrated (1986-2007)
"America's first celebrity athlete —- still perhaps its greatest—has finally gotten the solid, absorbing, clear -- eyed biography that lets us cheer and weep for him, as well as understand him." Robert Lipsyte
Buford traces the defining moments of Jim Thorpe's incomparable career: winning gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Olympics; defining the burgeoning sport of professional football; and the difficulties he faced as a Native American.
About the Author
Kate Buford is the author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life, (New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post choice for Best Book of the Year). She has been a commentator for NPR's Morning Edition and for Marketplace. She lives in Lexington, Virginia and Westchester, New York.